A cat, they say, always lands on its feet. It certainly has an extraordinary sense of balance, and an astonishingly supple body which enables it to right itself with the most amazing contortions. It has a spine with tiny discs that separate the vertebrae, which makes it extremely mobile, and they also act as shock absorbers.
If a cat falls backwards it immediately twists its head round, and then rotates the whole ,body. Thanks to its eyes and an “internal ear,” a vestibular appliance, it is able to “picture” its line of fall. The muscles immediately obey the orders of the brain. The cat, once facing the ground, breaks its fall by extending its front legs and flexing the back ones several times to keep its balance.
It is not a good idea to deliberately drop a cat to see what happens however; surprised or cross it could make a mistake and easily crack its skull. And if a cat falls from too high a drop it can hit the ground too hard. Many circus acts include performing dogs which, poor things, are more or less willingly dressed up and taught to do tricks to amuse us.
Cats are hardly ever used for the same sort of act, but in the Moscow Circus there is a clown who works with cats that really do seem to enjoy the performance as much as he does. How does Yuri get good results night after night? He explains that his act consists of three tricks, and in fact he teaches three different cats the same trick, so with nine cats there are always two in reserve for each trick, and if one does not cooperate every time, out of the three he is certain to have one cat that will work!