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are cuttlebones good for parrots?

Do Parrots Need Cuttlebones? (Cuttlefish Bone)

Last Updated on January 28, 2024 by Carrie Stephens

The cuttlebone is the long, oblong shell of the cuttlefish, a marine cephalopod that resembles a squid.

Cuttlebones are often added to bird cages for beak maintenance and as a dietary supplement. The main health benefit of cuttlebone is that it comprises 85% calcium carbonate.

The Netherlands Journal of Veterinary Science explains how a calcium deficiency (hypocalcemia) is a common concern in parrots, especially African grays.

Cuttlebone offers other minerals, including potassium, magnesium, and zinc. In addition, nibbling on cuttlebones can wear down the beak, minimizing the risk of overgrowth.

If adding a cuttlebone to a cage, consider hanging or suspending it from the roof or wall. A cuttlebone has two sides – one soft and one hard. Ensure the soft side is accessible. 

Parrots with a cuttlebone won’t need calcium supplements. Just as a calcium deficiency is a health concern, parrots can also develop hypercalcemia due to excessive calcium.

Why Parrots Need Cuttlefish Bone

A cuttlebone is an optional addition to a parrot’s cage, but it’s recommended. If a parrot’s diet contains insufficient calcium, cuttlefish bone is more important than ever.

Some owners provide supplements to ensure parrots receive all essential vitamins and minerals, but cuttlebone is an inexpensive, natural alternative.

A cuttlebone can also be a toy for a parrot, adding enrichment and preventing boredom.

do parrots eat cuttlebones?

Why Cuttlebone Is Good for Parrots

The main benefits of cuttlebone include:

Calcium Carbonate

Cuttlefish bone is calcareous, meaning it mainly comprises calcium carbonate. This makes cuttlebone a vital source of calcium if a parrot mostly eats nuts, seeds, and pellets.

Phosphorous and magnesium (also found in cuttlebone) are crucial to bone formation. A lack of calcium leads to hypocalcemia, the symptoms of which include:

  • Lethargy.
  • Depression.
  • Weak muscles.
  • Poor balance.
  • Fragile bones.
  • Growth disorders.
  • Tremors and seizures.
  • Poor reproductive health.
  • High chick mortality.

Cuttlebone is an easy way to avoid these risks without dietary supplements.

Minerals

Cuttlefish bone is rich in other minerals, including:

Magnesium:According to the Journal of Avian Medicine and Surgery, magnesium is as vital as calcium in preventing hypocalcemia.
Potassium:Potassium ensures heart health and helps metabolize protein and glucose. Potassium also keeps excretion waste at safe levels.
Zinc:Zinc promises healthy bone and feather growth. It also helps parrots regulate their appetite and enable them to benefit from vitamin A (retinol).

Heart Health And Circulation

Cuttlebone consumption aids heart health, improving blood circulation and keeping internal organs functioning optimally.

Cuttlefish bone also promotes blood clotting (coagulation) and faster healing if accidents arise.

Biomolecules and Therapeutics explain how this is due to chitin, a biopolymer found in the exoskeleton of arthropods – and cephalopods like cuttlefish.

Beak Health

Parrots instictively know when to grind away the excess of their beaks. A cuttlebone allows a parrot to wear down its upper and lower beak, preventing overgrowth, misalignment, and malocclusion.

Regular nibbling on a cuttlefish bone will retain the optimal beak shape.

Entertainment And Recreation

While parrots need free time outside a cage for recreation and exercise, they’ll still spend significant time inside their cages. Parrots need something to keep them occupied.

Applied Animal Behaviour Science explains how chewing is an instinctive behavior and a way for a parrot to pass the time. Many parrots have fun chewing and pecking cuttlefish bones.

Fertility

If you have a female parrot of breeding age, cuttlebone should be available. Consuming cuttlebone will encourage the development of well-formed, healthy eggs.

This reduces the risk of egg binding (dystocia) and chick mortality.

Cuttlebone Safety for Parrots

The health benefits make cuttlebone a welcome addition to a parrot’s diet, but balance is critical. If you provide a cuttlefish bone, reduce the availability of foods high in calcium, magnesium, and zinc.

The only other concern with cuttlebones is they can be brittle, creating sharp edges. Monitor cuttlebones that hang in the cage, filing away corners and replacing them when necessary.

how to get a bird to use cuttlebone

Where To Get Cuttlebones

Any store that sells bird supplies should have a ready stock. You won’t need to pay more than $2-3 for a pre-washed, ready-to-use cuttlebone. Avoid colored cuttlebones, as they contain dyes.

You can also buy cuttlebones from a fishmonger or trawl the beach for raw cuttlefish bones. They should be washed to remove excess sodium (saltwater) and bacterial microbes.

To sanitize cuttlebone, do the following:

  1. Boil it in saline water for 10 minutes and rinse it.
  2. Apply a spray solution of vinegar and water. Then, rinse it again.
  3. Leave the cuttlebone to dry in the sun, ideally for 24+ hours.

How Long Cuttlebones Last

If a parrot enjoys chewing on cuttlebones, it may devour one within a week. If it’s smaller in stature or less interested, it could last a month or longer.

Cuttlebones are hydrophilic, so they attract moisture, and bacteria and mold soon take hold. That’s why you must check the cuttlebone regularly to ensure it remains fit for purpose.

If you have any extra cuttlebones, keep them in a dry, air-tight container.

How To Give Cuttlebone To Parrots

To add a cuttlefish bone to a cage, ensure the softer side faces upward.

The easiest way to hang a cuttlebone in a cage is to drill 2 small holes in the base and attach it to cage bars using zip ties. You can hang it from the cage roof, but the walls provide easier access.

A pulverized cuttlebone can be sprinkled over a parrot’s food. Ensure the pieces are so small the parrot doesn’t notice them. Alternatively, you may be able to mix it with a parrot’s water.

Cuttlebone is recommended if a parrot’s diet lacks other calcium sources. They’re a convenient, low-cost, and enriching alternative to calcium supplements that assist with wearing down the beak.

Instead of cuttlebones, you can use limestone, oyster shells, calcium blocks, or ground eggshells.