Should You Give Your Tortoise a Cuttlefish Bone?


As responsible tortoise keepers, it’s our job to use all kinds of tools available to help our pets grow as healthy as possible. Some items might seem trivial, but when added to your enclosure, can greatly enhance your tortoise’s living conditions. One such item is the cuttlefish bone, or simply the cuttlebone. But what is a cuttlefish bone? How can your tortoise benefit from having them in their habitat? Are they something your tortoise really needs? Well, let’s look into that.

Cuttlefish bones, while not entirely necessary for your tortoise enclosure, can certainly help enhance your tortoise’s life. It’s not just a great source of calcium, but it can help wear down their beaks the natural and, most importantly, safe way.

It certainly has a lot of benefits, but let’s delve deeper into it, so you can decide for yourself if this is something you or your tortoise needs.

What are Cuttlefish Bones?

Cuttlefish bones, otherwise called cuttlebone, comes from a very interesting animal, the cuttlefish. The term cuttlefish bone is actually a misnomer, as it’s not actually made of bone. In fact, cuttlefish, like its cephalopod cousins, the squid and the octopus, don’t really have a skeletal structure. At least, not in a traditional sense. The cuttlebone is actually the internal shell of a cuttlefish, used mainly to get filled up with gasses and control buoyancy, which helps keep the animal afloat.

When a cuttlefish dies, its remnants usually get dissolved out at sea, and only the cuttlebone remains. This cuttlebone eventually finds its way to the shore, where it can be harvested, cleaned and used. Generally, cuttlefish bones are very lightweight, with a very chalky consistency when touched. Its underside is a lightweight, but hard material that acts as the actual shell, giving the whole bone structure. Each cuttlefish bone can have a unique shape, depending on which species it comes from, but they are usually oblong and tapered on each end.

What makes cuttlefish bone so appealing to pet owners, especially bird owners, is that it is comprised of at least 85% calcium. Coupled with its soft, chalky texture, it’s a great way to not only increase your tortoise’s calcium intake, but also shave down your tortoise’s beaks. This is also what makes cuttlebone popular with pet birds.

Where can you get Cuttlefish Bone?

As we’ve mentioned before, cuttlebone is traditionally used as a source of calcium for pet birds. In fact, ancient records show that the practice of giving cuttlebone to birds can be traced back to Ancient Rome. So, if you’re looking to give your tortoise a cuttlefish bone, then you have a good chance of finding one where they also sell pet bird supplies. In fact, Zoo Med offers their own selection of cuttlefish bone named Turtle Bone. Cuttlebones are relatively cheap, and you can buy quite a few without breaking the bank.

Of course, if you really don’t want to spend any money and you live close to the sea, you can try your luck at the local beach. Good tortoise cuttlefish bone usually litter the sands where cuttlefish are also found. If you do decide to opt for cuttlefish bone found on the shoreline, then you will need to clean it up first before offering it to your tortoise to avoid any nasty infection.

Benefits of Giving a Tortoise Cuttlefish Bone

Although cuttlebone is a popular item for bird keepers, it has properties that tortoises can greatly benefit from. Here are some of the benefits of giving your tortoise cuttlefish bone.

Cuttlefish Bone is an Excellent Source of Calcium

If you’ve had more than one tortoise, then you may have noticed that each one has their own unique personality and preferences. For example, one tortoise might be partial to a specific food item, while another one might avoid it like the plague for no apparent reason. This can make it difficult to meet their daily nutritional needs, especially so with important minerals like calcium. Because cuttlefish bone is made almost entirely of calcium, it’s a good alternative source for you to consider.

It is so rich in calcium, in fact, that most commercial calcium supplements for tortoises and reptiles in general list cuttlefish bone as one of their main ingredients. So, if your tortoise isn’t too fond of a particular food that’s rich in calcium, then giving them a piece of cuttlebone might be what they’re looking for.

It Helps Trim Down Their Beaks

In the wild, tortoises generally don’t need much help breaking down their beaks or their claws, since they get worn down over time as they are being used. It’s a totally different story while they are in captivity. One issue that many tortoise keepers don’t know how to deal with is trimming their tortoise’s beak. Untrimmed beaks can be problematic for tortoises, as this can prevent them from eating. Plus, if not done correctly, trimming your tortoise’s beak can be very uncomfortable, both for the tortoise and their owner.

Cuttlefish bones offer a less invasive and more natural way of trimming down your tortoise’s beak. It’s not too hard but can be hard enough to help wear down beaks over time. In fact, bird owners also use cuttlebone for the same reasons; to help wear down their pets’ beaks.

It’s a Good Item for Enrichment

Tortoises do get bored, too, and they will need toys and other items to help enrich their lives. There aren’t many things that can entertain tortoises, however, but cuttlebones are definitely something they’d appreciate having around. Tortoises tend to be very food-motivated and would normally eat even when they’re not hungry simply to pass the time. Giving your tortoise cuttlefish bone is an excellent way to keep them occupied without putting them in danger of overfeeding.

Preparing Your Tortoise’s Cuttlebone

As we’ve mentioned before, it is possible to get a cuttlefish bone simply by walking around the beach. The cuttlebones you find along the shore are usually the same stuff you get from the pet store. However, you can’t simply pick one up and give it to you tortoise as is. You’ll have to clean it and prepare it first, to avoid getting your tortoise sick. Here are the things you’ll need to do.

Boil it in Water

Once you’ve gathered up all the cuttlebone you want from the beach, rinse them off as soon as you can. Next, put them in a saucepan filled with water and let them to a boil for at least 5 minutes. Once that’s done, drain the saucepan and place the cuttlefish bones on top of a paper towel and let them air dry.

Submerge in Salt Water

If you want to be extra sure of your cuttlefish bone, instead of drying them, you can soak them in saltwater first. Simply take a few tablespoons of table salt and dissolve it in a saucepan full of water. Soak the cuttlebone for at least 30 to 40 minutes. It’s also a good idea to soak the cuttlefish bone you get from the pet store before giving it to your tortoise, if you’re not planning on boiling it in water. Once that’s done, air dry the cuttlebone as per usual.

Remove the Shell

Cuttlebone comes with a protective shell underneath it. This shell can be a bit sharp on the edges, which can cause injury to your tortoise, or even to you if you’re not careful. Once you’ve sanitized the cuttlefish bone, you should remove the shell off of it. You can do this by prying the shell off using a knife or scraping the chalky bits off with a spoon. Once the shell is off, you can safely give it to your tortoise.

Alternatives to Cuttlefish Bone

Sometimes, cuttlebone may not be available at the local pet store, or you live far from the shore. This makes securing cuttlebone a bit difficult. Other times, you get a tortoise that just doesn’t like cuttlebone. Lucky for you, there are alternatives you can use that will more or less have the same effect on your tortoise as cuttlebone.

Tortoise Blocks

A good candidate that provides the same benefits as cuttlebone are tortoise or turtle blocks. These items are blocks made from calcium and other minerals that also give the same benefits as cuttlefish bone, namely helping wear down their beak and for enrichment. Turtle blocks and tortoise blocks are more or less the same and can be used by both. Zoo Med has a Banquet Block that works well with many tortoise species.

Calcium Supplements

If cuttlefish bone just isn’t an option for your tortoise as a source of calcium, then you should supplement their diet in other ways. There are calcium supplements available on the market that can give your tortoise enough of the calcium they need to avoid getting calcium deficiency. Good brands include Fluker’s ReptaCal and Zoo Med’s Repti Calcium. We have a great in-depth article on giving your tortoise calcium here.

Should I give my tortoise calcium

Final Thoughts

In the wild, tortoises have plenty of ways to help supplement their overall nutrition, whether it’s in the plants in their local environment, or other items. In order for tortoise keepers to give the same rounded out nutrition, they will need to be creative, and cuttlefish bones can provide the answer they’re looking for.

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