A cuttlebone is on the "must-have" list of every new parakeet owner, and most parakeets love this addition to their cages. A cuttlebone isn't just a funny-looking accessory, though. It provides nutrients that are hard for your bird to get and a rough surface that smoothes down his growing beak.
Your cute and cheerful parakeet gets most of the nutrients he needs from a balanced diet of seed and fruit, but he may be lacking in certain minerals. Calcium, which helps your bird's bones, beak, toenails and feathers stay strong, isn't commonly found in at high levels in a parakeet's typical diet. While fruits and vegetables can be a source of calcium, many parakeets tend to pick and choose which foods they will eat, which can lead to deficiencies. Cuttlebones are an important source of calcium, as well as other trace minerals your bird needs.
When your bird rubs his beak against the rough surface of a cuttlebone, he's helping keep himself groomed. The cuttlebone grinds away the outer layers of the beak, leaving room for growth. An overgrown beak can be problematic because it can make eating difficult, which can lead to malnutrition. While your bird scrapes away at those dull outer layers, he's also exercising his jaw.
A cuttlebone is a natural product and isn't actually a bone at all. Instead, it is the inner shell of a squid-like cephalopod called a cuttlefish. Some people worry about contamination in cuttlebones, but according to the Humane Society of the United States, cuttlebones are safe for birds to use. If you are a vegetarian and prefer that your bird not consume animal products, you can use a mineral block to supplement his need for calcium instead of a cuttlebone.
If your bird ignores his cuttlebone, you can try offering it in a different way. Turn the cuttlebone sideways to see if he has a preference, or stick it through the bars in the cage so that it is jutting forward into the cage instead of hanging flat against the cage wall. Also, place the cuttlebone near a perch so your bird doesn’t have to hang onto the side of the cage while trying to gnaw on it. You can also crush up some of the cuttlebone and sprinkle it onto his food to ensure that your bird gets enough calcium.
Bridget Coila specializes in health, nutrition, pregnancy, pet and parenting topics. Her articles have appeared in Oxygen, American Fitness and on various websites. Coila has a Bachelor of Science in cell and molecular biology from the University of Cincinnati and more than 10 years of medical research experience.