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Internet seeks diagnosis for Tippy, the Fainting Squirrel

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Another day online, another cute animal video that may, in fact, highlight the casual cruelty of nature. 

YouTube clip of “Tippy,” a black squirrel whose foraging is every few seconds punctuated by a fainting spell and brief period of unconsciousness, is funny on the surface—but with winter coming, viewers are worried about his condition and prospects for the future.

Naturally, the optimistic guess would be simple inebriation, not uncommon in the animal kingdom. “I've seen squirrels nibble on pumpkins and stuff left out around this time of year,” wrote one redditor, “and when they eat some that have been fermenting a while, they seem to get drunk and act like this.” Fermented berries were also held out as a possibility, given the season.

Tippy’s apparent intoxication could be more serious than that, though still potentially nonfatal, as a YouTube commenter speculated: 

Looks like orthostatic hypotension (low blood pressure when upright), probably caused by an ingested toxin. You can see how it faints when it stands up. I'm thinking its little squirrel heart isn't able to fight gravity and get proper bloodflow to the brain. Once it goes down, the heart isn't working against gravity as much and can get blood to the brain. So it goes up and falls down over and over. Little guy should be fine once the toxin gets out of its system, assuming it didn't get a lethal dose.

Some wondered whether Tippy wasn’t just narcoleptic, though that raises the question of how on earth he’s survived this far. When another YouTube commenter asked how Tippy managed to climb trees, the video’s uploader replied that he’s “fine going up, but he has to lean against the trunk to keep from falling out,” which could mean he’s adapted to some lifelong defect. 

But given Tippy’s tendency to only fall to the right, many saw a worst-case neurological or balance problem, and not a few came up with a diagnosis of “myotonia congenita,” a genetic musculoskeletal disease made familiar to the Internet by popular “fainting goat” videos. Aside from goats, however, this form of myotonia has only been observed in humans, dogs, cats, and ponies—never squirrels.     

Short of an official consultation with a vet, we’ll never know what ails Tippy, though we can certainly wish him many happy landings. 

Photo by Marco/Flickr