When prey is scarce, the researchers said, large carnivores may gnaw prey to the bone, causing significant wear to their teeth as a result.
However, a new analysis of the teeth of saber-toothed cats and an American species of lion shows they did not resort to this behavior just before extinction, suggesting a lack of prey was probably not the main reason these large cats became extinct, a study published in the journal PLoS ONE said.
Larisa DeSantis of Vanderbilt University and her colleagues compared tooth wear patterns from the fossil cats that roamed California from 3,000 to 12,000 years ago before going extinct.
Scientists have suggested many reasons for their extinction, including a changing climate, human activity and competition from humans and other animals for food.
But a lack of food is contradicted by the fossil evidence, DeSantis said.
"Tooth wear patterns suggest that these cats were not desperately consuming entire carcasses, as was expected, and instead seemed to be living the 'good life' during the late Pleistocene, at least up until the very end."
The researchers suggest that while the cause of their extinction is still unknown a lack of food was probably not the main reason.