Ice Age sabre-tooth cats and dire wolves suffered from diseased joints – study
Ice Age sabre-tooth cats and dire wolves suffered from diseased joints – similar to pet cats and dogs today, researchers have found.
Osteochondrosis is a developmental bone disease known to affect the joints of vertebrates, including humans and various domesticated species.
However, it is not well documented in wild species, and published cases are quite rare.
In the new study, researchers identified signs of the disease in fossil arm and leg bones of Ice Age sabre-tooth cats (Smilodon fatalis) and dire wolves (Aenocyon dirus) from around 55,000 to 12,000 years ago.
The researchers said: “This study adds to the growing literature on Smilodon and dire wolf paleopathology, made possible by the unparalleled large sample sizes at the La Brea Tar Pits & Museum.
“This collaboration between palaeontologists and veterinarians confirms that these animals, though they were large predators that lived through tough times and are now extinct, shared common ailments with the cats and dogs in our very homes today.”
Researchers examined more than 1,000 limb bones of sabre-tooth cats, and more than 500 of dire wolves from the Late Pleistocene La Brea Tar Pits.
They found small defects in many bones consistent with a specific manifestation of bone disease called osteochondrosis dissecans (OCD).
According to the findings, these defects were mainly seen in shoulder and knee joints, with an incidence as high as 7% of the examined bones, significantly higher than that observed in modern species.
Because the study, published in Plos One, is limited to isolated bones from a single fossil locality, further study on other fossil sites might reveal patterns in the prevalence of this disease, including whether these joint problems would have hindered the hunting abilities of these predators.