Why Goats Faint and 4 Reasons to Keep Them

Goat Syncope is the main symptom faced by Fainting Goats to the condition Myotonia congenita. Syncope is a medical term that refers to the sudden loss of consciousness and muscle control. In other words, it’s when someone faints. And in case you’re wondering, yes, fainting goats do faint! But why does this breed of goats faint? Why do their muscles suddenly stiffen, unable to keep them upright?

These domestic goats, known as fainting goats, get their name because they faint whenever they get excited or scared. In this article, we will explore the science behind goat syncope, and the muscle condition and find out why these animals faint despite living otherwise normal lives.

A picture of two fainting goats
Fainting goats make great pets

Why Do Fainting Goats Faint?

So we see these cute goats given a little spook and as they turn to run away they stiffen up, and fall over, looking like they have fainted, but in actual fact, the Tennessee fainting goat doesn’t actually faint at all, they remain conscious but are paralyzed by a genetic disorder of stiffening muscles which also causes them to no longer be able to keep balance and so they tumble over.

Fainting Goats will ‘faint’ when startled, excited, or making an unexpected move due to a hereditary condition known as Myotonia congenita causing muscles to remain stiff and not relax after a sudden shock. Fainting Goats recover from a faint within seconds with no adverse effects.

Which Goats Faint?

There is only one breed of goat that faints and they are known as the Tennesee fainting goat, although over time they have picked up a wide range of other names they might commonly be known as such as Stiff-Leg goats or Nervous Goats.

Other Names for Fainting Goats

You’ll see many different names used in this article for fainting goats, none are incorrect, and all are used, some more often than others.

  • Tennessee Fainting Goat – Real name
  • Myotonic Goats – Technical Scientific name
  • Stiff-Leg Goats – Uncommon
  • Wooden Leg Goats – Uncommon
  • Nervous Goat – Less Common
  • Fall-Down Goats – Less Common
inforgraphic highlighting all common nicknames for the Tennessee Fainting Goat
which is your favorite nickname for the Tennessee fainting Goat?

Goats Faint as Often as they Are Startled or Excited

In answer to the oftentimes asked question, ‘How often does a fainting goat faint?’, is simply, as often as they get spooked, excited, or make a sudden movement which triggers the genetic condition called Myotonia congenita causing the symptom, triggering the muscle stiffness and inability to move.

Some goats it would seem are more prone to fainting with flight response than others, so whilst one goat may only faint infrequently, another may be observed to faint on a weekly or daily basis as highlighted in this National Geographic case study, looking at one of the most viewed fainting goat videos on the internet.

Something as minor as a false step can cause a goat to faint with this condition – Imagine that time when you think you are at the bottom of some steps, but there is just one more you are not expecting – That sudden extra drop, catches your breath and makes you jump a little, even a little jar in your back – You recover and realize what has happened.

Not for Mr. Fainting Goat, that simple misstep would be sufficient to cause him to ‘faint’.

Even getting excited about feeding time can see fainting goats stiffen and fall momentarily until composure is regained, they then return to their feet and continue as of nothing has happened.

In Most Cases, a Fainting Goat will Not be Harmed by the Experience

When a fainting goat has an attack of stiffness and falls, in the vast majority of cases, there are no adverse effects, the goat will recover in just a few seconds and be on its merry way.

A picture of two fainting goats on top of a shelter

Because of the quick recovery, and no long-lasting trauma from the condition, fainting goats are often startled or shocked for pure entertainment purposes, but it should be considered that continual frightening of the goats can cause unnecessary stress over time, much the same if someone kept making you jump incessantly. 

The exception of course is if the goat faints whilst in a precarious position climbing and takes a tumble from a height, or falls onto a sharp object. And, when used as herd protectors for the very fact that when attacked they will faint, they can come to ‘intentional harm’ – See the ‘What are Fainting Goats Used for’ section below for more information.

– So let’s take a look into the science of what happens when fainting goats seem to ‘Faint’

The Science Behind Why Goats Faint

picture of a black and white Myotonic goat looking at the camera
Myotonic_Goat Jean, CC BY 2.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

The reason Tennessee Fainting Goats are so called is because of the condition Myotonia Congenita which they inherit from birth.

Both parents of the fainting goat have to also be Myotonic goats for the kids to be affected. Cross-breeding of one Myotonic Goat with other breeds of goats will result in the offspring not having the condition.

What Happens?

Recall a moment when you have been startled, you will often make an involuntary movement, or ‘jump’ – Or think of a time when you have been super excited by some great news, and you can not resist waving your arms or punching the air.

This involuntary movement or ‘jump’ in the case of fainting goats triggers their condition which causes their muscles to fail to relax after that initial twitch fiber call to action from the brain to the muscle.

So in that split second when you go from relaxed to alert, when our, or other animals’ muscles would relax and naturally transition to make the next movement, a Fainting goat does not, its muscles contract and then freeze.

The Effects Usually Last Only a Few Seconds

In most cases, the fainting last for only a few seconds, during which the goat will be fully awake and just waiting for its muscles to free and to be able to move again. At this point, they will regain their feet, and continue on with whatever business they were conducting prior to the ‘faint’.

The Fainting Condition Could be Bred out of Fainting Goats

So bred with regular goats the condition can be eliminated, but then there would no longer be fainting goats and that would be a shame for the goats themselves if not for farmers who have plenty of use for them, for Meat, Herd Protection and YouTubers looking for views.

The condition that fainting goats have is purposefully preserved by breeders.

A picture of three goats looking out of a pen
Should we breed fainting goats out of existence?

What are Fainting Goats Used For?

You might be forgiven for thinking fainting goats are used solely to make videos and post them on YouTube and TikTok for likes and views. Whilst interesting to begin with, for me at least, it becomes a bit annoying watching people purposefully startle these poor goats into the ‘Faint’

Putting the questionable amusement use aside, Tennessee fainting goats do have other purposes, and actually, Amusement suddenly becomes rather attractive for the goat itself.

For Meat:

Tennessee fainting goats can be bred and raised for food just like many goat breeds, and they are especially good for meat quality, having a higher meat-to-bone ratio than many other meat goats.

Another attraction of Fainting goats for meat production is they do not have the propensity for escape as other normal goats who are super-adept at jumping and climbing. Often a slip or a jump can trigger the Myotonia congenita, and the muscle cells stiffness will stop them in their tracks before escape is complete.

Of course, if you are close enough when they are getting away, a quick chase will soon see you stepping over a dozen stricken fainting goats after their muscles tense, ready to scoop up and herd back to the pen.

For Herd Protection:

Picture of a herd of goats in front of a tree with grey clouds in the sky
Fainting when escaping predators is not the best job in the world for a goat

The chase and the fainting goats’ inability to partake, through either excitement or fear leaves them with another, possibly worse use for goat farmers.

Goat herds have many predators, and the goatherd can not protect each and every goat in the herd, however, plop a couple of fainting goats in the herd and is a predator approach, whilst the herd may make a quick exit, those Tennessee fainting goats will do what they do best, freeze and fall over and provide easy prey, inadvertently protecting the rest of the herd.

All of sudden, being the focus of being the butt of jokes and laughs on YouTube seems an attractive option for the fainting goat!


If you are a goat lover and are we not all? Then YouTube has to be the place for fainting goats. There are gazillions of videos of goats fainting through either excitement and/or fear, either unintentional or more often these days intentionally, for YouTubers or a goat owner to gain as many views and likes as possible.

There are some insanely cute videos and some downright frustrating tormenting videos doing the rounds, but again, the options for a fainting goat are limited, and at least as a YouTube star, they are neither meat for us or lunch for a Coyote!

Round Up

  • Myotonic goats are known for fainting when scared or excited.
  • Myotonia Congenita is a disease that affects the skeletal muscles.
  • Tennesee Fainting Goat’s muscles will seize up for several seconds if they feel extreme fear.
  • Fainting goats are sometimes triggered by excitement.
  • “Fainting” isn’t really what happens. The goats lock up and bounce back up.
  • A fainting goat is actually just a stiff goat.
  • Fainting goats aren’t actually harmed by this behavior, but it could cause them to lose balance and fall off things.
  • This is a genetic defect that is now preserved in goat breeding
  • You shouldn’t try to scare fainting goats on purpose. It can cause stress

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