Edith Cowan University
Companion animals are known to provide numerous psychosocial benefits to their owners. It is due to these prominent and positive contributions that individuals develop a deep attachment with their pet. Consequently pet owners experience intense grief reactions following the death of a cherished pet. While numerous studies have focused on the experiences for children and young adults, the experience of pet loss for the elderly remains relatively unexplored. An in-depth qualitative research design guided by a phenomenological framework was used to explore the experiences surrounding pet loss for the elderly. Data was collected though one-on-one semi-structured interviews with thirteen participants aged over 65 years who lost a pet in the last 24 months. Thematic analysis was utilised to identify themes in their transcripts. Themes that emerged included the human-animal bond, the importance and meaning of companion animals in the lives of the elderly, experiences of death, intensity and duration of grief, factors influencing grief reactions, coping strategies and social support. This study provides rich information to enable professionals to respond therapeutically to those bereaved and guide future research in exploring the devalued and misunderstood field of pet loss.