By Kate Hughes
When it comes to gun ownership, safety is of the utmost importance. Gun owners must take careful precautions to ensure that loved ones are kept out of harmâ€™s way. These precautions donâ€™t just extend to human members of a householdâ€”pets should also be kept in mind when practicing responsible firearm habits.
â€śFirst and foremost, firearms should always be treated with respect,â€ť says Dr. Michael Moss, a veterinarian at Central Pennsylvania Veterinary Emergency Treatment Services in State College, Pennsylvania. â€śTreat all guns as if theyâ€™re loaded, even if you are certain that they are not. And neverâ€”NEVERâ€”point them at another person or pet.â€ť
Using a Gun Safely
Preventing firearm-related accidents requires that gun owners exercise restraint when on hunting excursions. â€śThis sounds like common sense, but never shoot in the direction of a dogâ€”or person, for that matterâ€”thatâ€™s in cover,â€ť Moss says. â€śYou might not be able to see the dog, but that doesnâ€™t mean you wonâ€™t accidentally shoot him.â€ť
Moss is a hunter himself. When heâ€™s on hunting trips, he always tells his companions that no game is worth unsafe shooting practices. â€śIf you donâ€™t have a safe shot, let it go,â€ť he says. â€śThere will always be another chance.â€ť
If you want to hunt with your dog, Dr. Daniel Inman, a veterinarian at Burlington Emergency Veterinary Specialists in Williston, Vermont, suggests outfitting your pup with a bright orange vest. â€śItâ€™s the best way to ensure your dog doesnâ€™t get mistaken for game,â€ť he says.
Storing a Gun Safely
Mossâ€™s foremost recommendation is to never bring a loaded gun into your house. â€śThey should always be unloaded before they come indoors,â€ť he says. Once the gun is inside, it should be locked up somewhere safe. The same goes for ammunition. â€śPets are curious,â€ť he says. â€śEspecially dogs. Theyâ€™ll eat almost anything, even cartridges. Dogs are very bright animals, but sometimes even the brightest dog does something stupid.â€ť
Inman adds that while pets cannot pick up a gun and fire it like a child might, they can knock it off a table if itâ€™s left unattended and cause it to accidentally discharge. â€śAnimals are very unpredictable,â€ť he says. â€śThey can jump on you without warning, or decide to explore an area theyâ€™ve never expressed an interest in before. For these reasons, itâ€™s definitely best to keep animals and firearms separated.â€ť
Cleaning a Gun Safely
Both Moss and Inman say that the very first thing gun owners should do when cleaning their firearms is to check that the gun is not loaded. Then, they should check again. â€śIâ€™ve seen several cases in which gun owners accidentally injure their pets because they didnâ€™t know their guns were loaded when they were cleaning them,â€ť Inman says.
Moss concurs. â€śI have read so many articles about people who have firearm accidents when cleaning a loaded gun,â€ť he says. â€śAlways check to make sure a firearm is unloaded before handling it in this way.â€ť
And, once a gun owner commences cleaning her firearm, she must be careful that she doesnâ€™t accidentally point it at her pet. â€śRemember, pets exist on a lower plane than people. If you point a gun at the floor when youâ€™re cleaning it, you may think youâ€™re being safe, but that is where your pet is,â€ť Inman says. To ensure everyoneâ€™s safety, he recommends that pets be kept in a separate room when firearms are out and being cleaned.
Inman adds that a lot of the solutions used to clean guns may be caustic, making them extremely dangerous if pets were to ingest them. â€śCaustic solvents serve a purpose, which is to break up dirt and debris. Beyond being poisonous, if swallowed, these solvents can cause irritation and inflammation to an animalâ€™s esophagus and stomach. This means that if a dog or cat swallows them, you donâ€™t want to induce vomiting because it could cause serious damage the esophagus.â€ť
Inman reiterates that pets, firearms, and firearm cleaning products should be kept separate to avoid any issues. However, if a pet does manage to eat some cleaning product, Inman first suggests learning what the active ingredient is in that product, and then reaching out to poison control for further guidance. â€śSome products may only cause some minor gastrointestinal upset. Others may require IV fluids and supportive care,â€ť he says. â€śYou have to figure out what youâ€™re dealing with before taking action.â€ť