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A dwarf will go unconscious for a variety of reasons. When a Dwarf or other animal is caught by a dust cloud from a collapsing roof or sustains serious enough injuries, it will fall unconscious. This means that the animal or Dwarf cannot move or enter combat. It is vulnerable to attacks. The most common source of a dwarf being unconscious is that they are sleeping.
Any unconscious creature has the "unconscious" label listed at the top right of their wounds menu (as seen when viewing them). Although this is shown next to "upper body", it is separate from that location, and applies to the general creature itself (This also applies to other labels in that column like "thirsty").
An unconscious dwarf may need to be carried back to a bed by a conscious dwarf with the Health care labor enabled. (Animals require the animal care labor.) If the dwarf or animal was injured in combat it will require food and water until its wounds have healed.
Unconscious dwarfs cancel any job orders they are currently attempting to fill, with the sole exception of a Strange mood.
It should also be noted that traps will activate for any unconscious entity.
If a dwarf seems to continually go unconscious, it most likely has a wound to its head, an eye, or other organ. View that dwarf, and see their wounds menu - use the + & - keys to scroll up/down to check areas not usually listed.
See also: wounds