Parrots need to grind down their beaks, get sufficient calcium, and groom themselves. That can be difficult to achieve in captivity, so cuttlebones can be a beneficial addition to your parrot’s cage.
Cuttlebones are a rich source of calcium and useful filing down a parrot’s beak. They balance out a parrot’s diet, provide entertainment and enrichment, and keep the beak at a healthy length.
If the proper sanitation methods aren’t used, a cuttlebone could make a parrot sick. Parrots with overgrown beaks should not be given cuttlebones until their beak issue is already resolved.
Are Cuttlebones Good for Parrots?
Cuttlebones have many advantages for parrots. In fact, most owners recommend placing one in a parrot’s cage. Benefits include:
- High in calcium
- Wears down an overgrown beak
- Tracement vitamins and minerals
- Source of enrichment
Due to their high mineral content, cuttlebones ensure that parrots get enough calcium in their diets. Many parrot pellets and seeds contain protein, fiber, and fatty acids. However, these foods lack calcium.
This can be dangerous, as parrots can become calcium-deficient. According to the American Animal Hospital Association, calcium deficiency is the most common mineral disorder in birds. Besides the parrot’s breed, some of the most common reasons for developing hypocalcemia include:
- Excessive fruit-eating
- Metabolic problems
- Poor diet
- Excessive egg-laying
Parrot eggs are made almost entirely of calcium carbonate. So, parrots need a lot of calcium in their diet to lay eggs. By boosting calcium intake with cuttlebones, you avoid certain breeding problems, such as:
- Weak eggshells
- Malnourished parrot chicks
Other Minerals And Vitamin Processing
Cuttlebones are internal shells found in cuttlefish. They are oblong in shape, white in color, and come in various sizes. About 85% of them are made of calcium carbonate. The rest is made of various minerals such as:
- Sodium magnesium.
In any organism, calcium needs to be activated through vitamin D. The uropygial gland regulates the activation of calcium through the secretion of vitamin D3 precursors. Some species of parrots don’t have uropygial glands, such as:
- Amazon parrots
- African grey parrots
- Purple macaws (of the hyacinth and Lear’s variety)
This means they are more likely to develop hypocalcemia (calcium deficiency). That was emphasized in a study published in Avian Medicine. The condition can then lead to life-threatening seizures.
Are Cuttlebones Good for Parrot Beaks?
Cuttlebones keep a parrot’s beak in proper shape. They have a soft side that parrots like to:
- Bite into
- Scrape their beaks against
This keeps their beaks sharp and is a useful exercise for their jaws. Parrots use their beaks to eat, climb, and groom themselves. Beak maintenance is just as important as any other health issue.
The life of a pet parrot isn’t as filled with activity as that of a wild parrot. Their beaks become much softer and are at risk of overgrowing. Brittle and overgrown beaks are dangerous because:
- It prevents them from eating
- Makes grooming more difficult
- Beaks can easily break
Broken or cracked beaks allow bacteria to seep through and infect the parrot. With that in mind, consider getting a cuttlebone, so your parrot’s beak can stay strong.
Are Cuttlebones Dangerous for Parrots?
Although cuttlebones have many advantages, there are cases where they do more harm than good.
Some parrots can be too enthusiastic when grinding their beaks into cuttlebones. They can accidentally injure their beaks on:
- The metal clips that are used to attach the cuttlebone to the cage
- The hard side of the cuttlebone
Blood flows through the beak. If you see heavy scratches or blood coming from your parrot’s beak, remove the cuttlefish from the cage. It could be what’s causing the wounds.
Overgrown beaks have more blood flowing through them than regular-sized beaks. As such, when the bird starts to wear down the overgrowth, it may hurt itself. Ensure the beak is in good shape first.
While convenient, cuttlebones can cause problems if you get the wrong kinds. If you don’t maintain them, it can also make your parrot sick.
How To Pick The Right Cuttlebone
When looking for a cuttlebone, be sure to consider these factors:
There are many kinds of cuttlebones. However, the best ones to get are the regular ones with an oblong shape and no flavor. Other types can be:
- Fruit flavored
- Colored differently than the normal off-white
- Shaped like a perch
However, these are not good for birds. The flavored ones contain artificial ingredients that are bad for any animal’s health. Likewise, the ones made into perches are multiple crushed cuttlebones molded into the shape of a long cylinder. To maintain the shape, a binding agent must be used.
This means that cuttlebone perches are not entirely natural and have additives. That’s something you want to avoid to keep your parrot healthy.
Cuttlebones come from cuttlefish, which have a short lifespan and die after breeding. Their shells float to the surface of the ocean, where they’re then collected. To get rid of bacteria, they are put through boiled water many times and are sun-bleached.
However, this method doesn’t always remove germs and bacteria. That’s especially true with how heavily contaminated our ocean water is these days. If the cuttlebone you purchased still has a fishy smell, it wasn’t sanitized properly.
Once a cuttlebone has been bought, where you place it is just as important as the quality. Most store-bought cuttlebones arrive with metal hooks and straps. These allow you to attach the cuttlebone to the cage. Use those instead of letting them sit at the bottom of the cage. Otherwise, the parrots could defecate or spill water on them.
Cuttlebone also attracts moisture. If you live in a humid climate, watch out for any mold that can grow on it. That’s why it’s recommended that you don’t buy several cuttlebones at once.
Cuttlebone Alternatives for Birds
As convenient as cuttlebones are, they aren’t essential. If you don’t trust vendors to sell sanitized cuttlebones, you have options. For materials that serve the same function, consider:
- Mineral blocks
- Calcium powder
- Crushed eggshells (not raw)
- Crushed oyster shells
- Plaster blocks
- Manu blocks
- Boiled chicken bones
When it comes to cuttlebone alternatives to make sure your parrot has a healthy beak, you could use:
- Conditioning perches
- Chew toys
- Tree stands
- Climbing trees
With that said, using some discretion on your cuttlebone vendor should help you avoid any pitfalls.
How to Attach a Cuttlebone to a Bird Cage
Now you’ve picked the ideal cuttlebone. How do you properly set it up in your parrot’s cage?
Use The Clippings
As mentioned, cuttlebones are sold with thin metal clippings. You can use these to attach the cuttlebone to the cage. The clippings will look like a four-legged spider. These need to be placed on the hard side of the cuttlebone.
Pick The Right Side
Cuttlebones have hard and soft sides. Be sure the soft side is the one facing the inside of the cage. That will be the side the parrot bites into.
Adjust The Clippings
Bend the legs of the metal until the edges reach the front. After that, bend the edges so that they dig into the soft side of the mollusk’s bone. Check that they’re secured in place.
Check The Cage Bars
Depending on whether the cage’s bars are horizontal or vertical, you’ll want to rotate the cuttlebone. The head of the metal clipping should be on the outside. Bend the edges until the cuttlebone is firmly in place.
Zip Ties Or Yarn
Some people dislike securing cuttlebones to cages with clippings. Obviously, the metal is thin and sharp enough to harm the parrot. The metal clippings can also start rusting, which is dangerous for your parrot to interact with.
How to Get a Bird to Use a Cuttlebone
Not all parrots like cuttlebones. Some prefer using them as perches, while others like to throw them around the cage. If you want to get your parrot to use one properly, use these tips:
- Give it time: Some parrots need to get used to a new cuttlebone if it’s their first time seeing one.
- Place it at the bottom of their cage: Allow your parrot to play with the cuttlebone and toss it around first.
- Tie it in a different spot: If you tie a cuttlebone on one side of the cage and don’t like it, they won’t use it.
- Ensure the cuttlebone is safe for the parrot: Inspect the cuttlebone for mold and insects. If you find any, sanitize them by putting the cuttlebone in boiling water.
Some parrots dislike cuttlebones. If the parrot still won’t use the cuttlebone, but you need it in your parrot’s diet, you can circumvent the problem. Just crush the bone into a fine dust and mix it in the parrot’s food.
How Long Do Cuttlebones Last?
The lifespan of a cuttlebone depends on the parrot. Some will only nibble on the mollusk’s bone, and it will stay intact for months. Other parrots will devour it in the span of a few days.
Dangers of Eating Cuttlebones Quickly
Keep an eye on the parrots that go through many cuttlebones in the span of a few weeks. Parrots can become calcium deficient, but it’s just as easy to over-supplement.
Cuttlebones have a nice texture that birds love to peck at. If they receive more than their recommended daily dose of calcium, it could have harmful effects. This may include calcification of their internal organs.
Eating Cuttlebones While Nesting
The only time that overconsumption of cuttlebone is safe is when the parrot is nesting. They need the extra calcium to lay eggs, so a change in diet is required.
However, the parrot may get into the habit of eating the cuttlebone while nesting and won’t stop. In this case, it’s best to remove the cuttlebone from the cage for a few weeks. As mentioned, you can control its calcium intake yourself by sprinkling crushed cuttlebone or calcium powder on its food.
There are many advantages to giving parrots cuttlebones. Just be sure they use them in moderation as excessive usage can cause problems.