Friday, May 01, 2020

I had forgotten all about fainting goats

I am just reading a novel (Fishbowl by Bradley Somers, as it happens) which makes a passing reference to something I knew about but had forgotten all about: fainting goats.

It's kind of amusing, but also kind of sad and pathetic, and certainly not as amusing as some of the viral YouTube videos on the subject might suggest, with all their guffawing and their unnecessary and deliberate spooking of the goats.
Medically, it's quite fascinating. They are called myotonic goats, after myotonia congenita, a genetic condition that causes their limbs to stiffen briefly after a shock or startle. They don't actually faint - they don't lose consciousness - their limbs just seize up instead of the usual fight-or-flight chemical reaction that most animals experience in such circumstances, one that typically leads to muscle movement rather than muscle stiffening.
It is something that can also affect dogs, and other farmyard stock, even humans, but it mainly occurs in a particularly species of goat. They are often called Tennessee fainting goats, because, for some reason, most of them are found in Tennessee and neighbouring states in the southern USA (they are one of the few species of goats native to North America). They are also sometimes known, less respectfully, as wooden leg goats, or stiff leg goats, or just nervous goats.

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