The Real Story Behind the Famous 'Fainting Kittens'

 |  Nov 1st 2010  |   122 Contributions


Charlie, left, and Spike are believed to have suffered from a rare genetic condition called myotonia congenita, also known as "fainting goat" syndrome.

A YouTube video showing a pair of kittens stumbling around on the floor and repeatedly 'fainting' had racked up more than a million and a half views as of November 1.

In the video, Charlie and Spike are seen trying to explore their owner's living room, but every few moments they suddenly lurch forward and collapse on their side, where they remain apparently paralyzed for several seconds.

Veterinarians suspect that the kittens had a condition called myotonia congenita, also known as "fainting goat" syndrome.

But the source of their internet fame has now claimed both kittens' lives.

Spike, the black-and-white cat, died last Tuesday from respiratory failure, a common complication of the disease.

On October 30, Edward and Becky Scarr, the kittens' owners, wrote on their YouTube page, "I'm devastated to report the death of the second kitten, Charlie. He died in my arms this evening."

Myotonia congenita is an extremely rare condition in cats, and Spike and Charlie were the only cats in the UK known to have the disorder. Two other cases have been reported in the US, and four in New Zealand.

The disease is genetically inherited. It is believed to be caused by a chemical imbalance in the muscle cells, which leads to repeated abnormal electrical discharges, such as those associated with being startled. The muscles then take much longer to relax than those in a healthy body, which results in the "fainting."

Veterinarian Pete Wedderburn says, "The condition causes stiffness in the esophagus which makes if difficult for the animals to eat or breathe, hence one of the kittens dying from respiratory problems . Sadly there really isnt much that can be done for animals with this condition."

Edward Scarr had purchased Charlie from a pet store, but he quickly realized the kitten had a problem.

"I noticed that he was having trouble standing up properly and that something wasn't right," he said. "He would be walking around and then at the slightest sound collapse into a rigid paralysis for a while before returning to normal.

"When I took him back to the pet shop I was told that Charlie's brother had been returned with the same condition, and that he was going to be put down. I ended up taking both cats home."

Edward took the cats to the Royal Veterinary College three weeks ago. The veterinarians developed a plan to manage the kittens' condition with medications that would stabilize the muscle membranes so they wouldn't contract so much. The drugs had never been used in cats before, and there was a concern that they could have been immediately fatal in such small kittens.

The treatment program was due to begin today, November 1, but both kittens died before it could begin.

"During the short time we had them, both Charlie and Spike touched our lives in a way that we never expected," the Scarrs said.

The couple created a second video of the kittens as a memorial tribute.

[Sources: BBC, metro.co.uk, and Suite 101]

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