A fainting goat is a breed of domestic goat whose muscles freeze for roughly 10 seconds when the goat is startled. Though painless, this generally results in the animal collapsing on its side. The characteristic is caused by a hereditary genetic disorder called myotonia congenita. When startled, younger goats will stiffen and fall over. Older goats learn to spread their legs or lean against something when startled, and often they continue to run about in an awkward, stiff-legged shuffle.
Fainting goats have a muscle condition, which is called myotonia congenita. This is a condition which occurs in many species, including humans. The goats do not truly “faint” in any sense of the word, as they never lose consciousness because of their myotonia. They remain fully conscious.
Besides the myotonia, another distinguishing feature of the fainting goat is their prominently set eyes. The eyes protrude from the eye sockets, as opposed to recessed eyes seen in other breeds. The profile is straight as opposed to the convex or “roman” profile.
Although extensive research has been done on these goats, there have never been any conclusive results that indicate why they behave the way that they do. The idea that they have myotonia congenita has seemed to be accurate but all research has been deemed inconclusive. Beck et al. (1996) studied the chloride ion channels in the neural pathways that propagated action potential to see if these had any correlation to the goats “fainting” tendencies. Although it has been proven that a lack of chloride can cause spontaneous muscle contraction, it is more likely that the actin and myosin filaments in the goat’s muscle are being directly affected by a prenatal acetylcholine deficiency as shown by De Luca et al. (1991). Although it is not impossible that there are other reasons that these goats enter myotonic shock, no hypothesis has yet been confirmed.
Dr. D. Phillip Sponenberg had this to say about Myotonic Goats in 2005:
“Myotonic goats have a very distinctive breed type that is based mostly on head and body conformation. They also have a muscle condition called myotonia congenita. This inherited trait leads to an overall increase in muscle mass so that the goats are very muscular when compared to other breeds of similar size. This trait is so distinctive that it is easy to confuse the trait with the breed. However, the Myotonic goat is much more than just a myotonic condition; it has a host of other consistent traits that are very important and need to be conserved for future generations.”
Every year in October, fainting goats are honored in Marshall County, Tennessee at the “Goats Music and More Festival”. The festival is centered on goats but has activities including music, an arts and crafts show, food vendors, and children’s activities.