The Lived Experience of Companion-animal Loss: A Systematic Review of Qualitative Studies

Hellen R. Kemp, Nicky Jacobs, Sandra Stewart

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

11 Citations (Scopus)


The aim of this systematic review was to evaluate qualitative studies of the lived experience of companion-animal loss and grief. Six electronic databases (PsycINFO, CINAHL Plus, Ovid MEDLINE, ProQuest, Scopus, and Web of Science) were searched for English language, peer-reviewed articles from 1970 to July 2015. Only primary empirical studies using a qualitative method with textual data describing a direct ongoing relationship with, and subsequent loss of, a companion animal were included. A narrative synthesis was conducted on 11 eligible studies using inductive open coding techniques. Analysis revealed that pets were often labeled as family, and strong emotional connections between animals and humans were reported in some studies, whereas in other studies findings were inconsistent. Loss experience was predominantly with prototypical animals (cats, dogs); two studies involved other animals (horse, fish). Grief was described in five studies, with participants’ experience ranging from low to overwhelming. Prolonged grief was associated with self-disenfranchisement, whereas subjective healing was associated with remembrance, in which the animal remained as a memory in a “new” normal. Clinical implications are discussed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)533-557
Number of pages25
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 30 Dec 2016


  • animal loss
  • companion animal
  • grief
  • systematic review

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