Ice Age saber-tooth cats and dire wolves suffered from arthritis – just like cats and dogs today, according to new research.
An analysis of more than 1,500 limb bones has identified swelling and stiffness in the joints.
The condition, known as osteochondrosis, affects vertebrates including humans – and often leads to the misery of arthritis.
Fossilized specimens dating back between 55,000 and 12,000 years ago show it was common in these extinct apex predators.
They were dug up at a prehistoric animal graveyard named La Brea tar pits in Southern California.
Osteochondrosis is a developmental bone disease that also affects various domesticated animals – including cats and dogs. It is not well documented in wild species.
The study in PLOS ONE identified a surprisingly high incidence.
Lead author Dr. Hugo Schmokel, of Evidensia Academy in Stockholm, 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 paleontologists 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.”
Until about 10,000 years ago, the saber-tooth cat Smilodon fatalis was a fearsome predator in what is now the American West.
More than 3,000 fossilized cats have been pulled from the acrid ooze of the La Brea tar pits.
They sported seven-inch-long fangs and could weigh up to 600 pounds.
Dr. Schmokel said: “Ice Age saber-tooth cats and dire wolves experienced a high incidence of bone disease in their joints.”
The international team found small defects in many bones consistent with a specific manifestation of a disease called osteochondrosis dissecans (OCD).
Dr. Schmokel said: “These defects were mainly seen in shoulder and knee joints, with an incidence as high as seven percent of the examined bones, significantly higher than that observed in modern species.”
Further study on other fossil sites might reveal patterns in prevalence – and shed fresh light on aspects of these animals’ lives.
Dr. Schmokel said: “It remains unclear, for example, whether these joint problems would have hindered the hunting abilities of these predators.
“Furthermore, OCD is commonly seen in modern domestic dogs which are highly inbred.
“So it’s possible the high incidence of the disease in these fossil animals could be a sign of dwindling populations as these ancient species approached extinction.”
Produced in association with SWNS Talker
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