“We Lost a Member of the Family”: Predictors of the Grief Experience Surrounding the Loss of a Pet

Anna Maria C. Behler, Ph.D.1 Jeffrey D. Green, Ph.D.2 Jennifer Joy-Gaba, Ph.D.2
1 North Carolina State University
2 Virginia Commonwealth University

Pets play an important role in their owners’ lives and are often viewed as family members. However, research on human-animal relationships suggests that pet owners often receive relatively less emotional support when experiencing grief after the death of a beloved pet, a phenomenon known as disenfranchised grief. In this internet-based survey study, we explored how people experienced grief surrounding the loss of their pets, and how this experience mirrors emotions that result from the death of a human loved one. We examined how factors such as anthropomorphism, attachment to a pet, and social support influence the grief experience. We also explored how feelings of guilt and shame play a role when grieving the loss of a pet. We found that grief over the loss of a pet is similar to grieving a human loved one in large part due to the anthropomorphic qualities attribute that owners attribute to their pets. Avenues for future exploration of the psychological impact of pet ownership are discussed.
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