'Fainting Goats' & Kittens Have Made Me Paranoid

Andrew Dalton

How many fans of fainting goats we got out there? Who's with me? Let's hear it! Alright, so I take it from the silence there are just a few of us. And maybe "fan" is the wrong word since the phenomenon is so sad. See, there is a variety of goat that when it gets startled, its muscles freeze up for about 10 seconds.

Grown-up goats who have learned to deal with it just briefly look like they're stuffed and fake. But the kids fall to the ground, sometimes en masse. Hence the "fainting." The videos are intriguing.

But not as intriguing as this. Nothing is. The phenomenon -- myotonia congenita or "fainting goat syndrome" -- has apparently now leapt to kittens. Witness this video of British felines Charlie and Spike, which a friend of mine rightly calls "horrible and adorable." See for yourself ....

After watching that about 30 times, I just couldn't take it anymore. The BBC says the syndrome is believed to have affected only six reported kittens. Besides Charlie and Spike, there are two from the United States and four from New Zealand.

It has also been reported in horses and dogs. 

Since I was desperate to talk about Charlie and Spike and my primary topic is toddler parenting, I had planned a post mocking parent-hypochondria by suggesting that maybe the next big thing in hyper-worrying would be panic over kids with fainting goat syndrome and other animal ailments (fish dropsy, camelpox).

Then I learned two terrible facts. One, little Spike is dead. His condition, more serious than Charlie's, affected his respiratory system and he just couldn't make it. Charlie, while stronger, will have to live like a kitten in a bubble. 

Secondly, and even more seriously, it turns out humans really can get it. (And were it not purely genetic, I have no doubt that I would get it right now out of sheer karma for even briefly thinking it could be joke fodder.)

It's known as Thomsen's disease or Becker's disease, it's rare, and it's not as debilitating in humans. The main problem is difficulty swallowing, and gagging, and stiff movements, though these can be improved with repetition. It's hard to detect because the people who have it appear perfectly fit, in fact many of them look extra taut and muscular.

And it turns out there is a toddler tie-in. The symptoms of it usually become apparent at 2 or 3 years old.

This was a lesson for me in two ways. One -- do more than a quick Google search when talking about a topic. And two -- spend less time judging the hypochondriacs and health freaks around you, both online and in real life (not that the Internet isn't real life). I've had the constant and totally unearned gift of good health, and my kid has too. But it's a temporary condition, for all of us. Sometimes the "hypochondriacs" are right.

Are you a hypochondriac parent or the opposite?


Image via ChristianHolmer/Flickr

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