Goats do yoga, goats have accents and some super athletic goats can hang out on the side of a cliff without falling. And then there are the goats that faint.
While not as impressive as their cousins, let’s try to give them the benefit of the doubt, shall we? It’s not their fault! Everyone gets a little scared sometimes! Whether or not any old goat you encounter will faint, though, is like a square vs. a rectangle: All fainting goats are goats, but not all goats are fainting goats. We’re going to be saying “goats” a lot over the next few paragraphs.
Fainting goats are known as myotonic goats, due to a genetic disorder called myotonia congenita, also known as Thomsen's disease. This is what causes the fainting, which actually isn’t fainting at all. The goat is wide awake when it falls over, just rendered motionless. When goats “faint,” it’s because they gets spooked and their skeletal muscles lock up, so they lose their balance and tip over. The muscles slowly loosen once the reaction fades, but until then, they’re on the ground.
Essentially, their fight-or-flight reaction is on the fritz. Normally, your muscles stiffen but immediately loosen back up so you can, you know, fight or flight. In the case of fainting goats, though, that loosening doesn’t happen so quickly, rendering them immobile.
As far as how Thomsen’s came to be, no one’s quite sure. The most popular theory is that it resulted from a natural mutation in a herd of Tennessee goats. The herd was bred and grown throughout the state and then the South in general, and bigger fainting goats were said to be bred in Texas. Everything’s bigger in Texas, after all. They kept breeding these wonky goats because they have one of the highest meat-to-bone ratios of any other goats and produce favorable milk.
By the way, people, horses, dogs, cats and mice can experience myotonia congenita, too. It’s just the most entertaining when goats have a fainting spell because they’re so stocky.
Luckily, it's not a painful seizing-up, and the goats usually don’t get hurt from falling over, so we can continue guiltlessly watching falling goat videos on the internet.