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Why Do Goats Faint? What Really Happens When a Goat Faints?

You’ve likely seen the countless videos of fainting goats posted on social media like YouTube and Facebook. While this might seem like a quirky or even humorous behavior, few people know what is actually happening with the goats. What causes them to faint and how does this affect them mentally and physically?

Fainting in goats is caused by a hereditary condition known as myotonia congenita and isn’t fainting at all. The disorder affects the goat’s skeletal muscles, causing it to involuntarily contract and rendering it suddenly stiff. Unable to support itself, it often falls over but is not unconscious.

In this article, we will answer more common questions relating to this phenomenon of goat “fainting.” As you read, you’ll learn how common this behavior is in goats, how it affects their health, and other relevant information.

What Causes Goats to “Faint”?

As we mentioned previously, “fainting goats” don’t actually faint because the myotonia congenita is affecting their muscles, not their mental state. Since fainting is defined as “a sudden, brief (source) loss of consciousness and posture,” a more accurate description here would be “falling goats.”

That being said, what is it that causes these goats to topple over so suddenly apart from their hereditary condition? Is there a trigger or can it happen virtually any time at random?

“Fainting” goats, also referred to as “myotonic” goats, typically only experience this stiffening effect in their muscles when they have been startled or feel extreme fear or excitement and attempt to move suddenly.

The more specific and scientific cause for this is a missense mutation of the CLCN1 gene that reduces chloride ion conductance in the chloride channels of muscle fibers.

As a result, when the “fight or flight” response is triggered in the goats from extreme fear or excitement, their muscles tense up rather than relaxing like they would in other species and breeds so they can run, jump, or defend themselves.

The imbalance of positively charged sodium ions and negatively charged chloride ions in their muscles means they don’t have enough sodium to relax, and so, they remain in this stiffened state for 5-20 seconds (source) until the balance is resolved.

Here’s a funny compilation video of fainting goats because this article wouldn’t be complete without it!

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Do They Always Fall Over?

While the stiffening effect can be severe enough to render the goat prone and defenseless, this is not always the case. There are various levels of severity to the muscle stiffening, and the goats can learn to adapt to this feeling over time.

It is not uncommon for older goats to remaining standing after their muscles begin to contract. This means the act of falling over is much more commonly seen in younger goats.

Do All Goats “Faint”?

If you have a pet goat out in your field or are considering obtaining one and are concerned that they’ll be fainting all over the place, rest at ease.

In reality, there is only one breed of goat that experiences this phenomenon, and it is aptly named the Tennessee fainting goat.

These goats are estimated to have appeared in Marshall County, Tennessee in the 1880s (source) and were originally selected for their calmer demeanor and stockier build that made them perfect for meat production.

However, nowadays, the breed is rarely kept for meat purposes. Instead, it is much more common to see them as pets or as show animals.

Because the gene that causes myotonia congenita is recessive, it rarely manifests in goats that are crossbred with the Tennessee fainting goat.

So, if you are intent on avoiding the condition altogether, either avoid this breed or make sure they are not purely bred with others that have the hereditary condition.

Is Fainting Painful for the Goats?

A common concern people have when they witness these goats locking up and falling over is whether there is a negative mental or physical reaction paired with it.

Unfortunately, we don’t know for certain that the process of “fainting” isn’t painful for these goats, but through observation, it doesn’t appear to cause any physical or mental harm unless the animal injuries themselves in the process of falling.

When a goat experiences one of these “fainting” episodes, it usually only lasts for a few seconds before they hop right up and prance away.

There doesn’t appear to be anything physically wrong with them when they come out of the stiffened position that would indicate they experienced pain, but since we can’t ask the goats themselves, there’s no way to confirm this apart from running scientific tests.

However, the hereditary condition of myotonia congenita that causes this specific breed of goats to “faint” can also be found in humans, among other species, and research conducted on humans with this condition have concluded that it is painless.  

Is Fainting Bad for the Goats?

Knowing that the “fainting” process doesn’t appear to physically harm the goats is always a relief, but you might be curious if there are any other lasting effects of this condition.

Through research conducted on these goats along with other species that share the condition have conclude that myotonia congenita does not affect the individual’s muscle tone or life expectancy. Therefore, there is no reason this condition would get in the way of your Tennessee fainting goats living a fulfilled life.

Most Tennessee fainting goats have an average lifespan of 15-18 years, which is common for numerous goat breeds worldwide.

The only potential negative impact of “fainting” would be that the condition might stress out young goats when they first experience it, but over time, they adapt and become used to it as they age.

Final Thoughts

“Fainting” goats might be a humorous oddity you see online and suspect is some form of trick the goat was taught, but in reality, it is the result of a very real hereditary condition that affects them throughout their entire life.

Thankfully, the condition is not painful and does not impede the goat’s ability to live a healthy life, which is why this breed is a common choice of pet for many farmers and goat lovers.

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