I am extremely distraught, so please forgive my rambling and errors. Edits are welcome.

Yesterday, before I got home, my wife called to tell me that she found our son choking our kitten that we've had for about 3 months now. The cat seemed to be almost passed out, but recovered after being let go (although it was coughing continually for some time after).

This is the second time something like this has happened, but neither of us witnessed the first time, we only heard the cat yelping, and when we rushed to see what was happening, our son claimed that he was choking the cat. We made it very clear that the cat could die and that if this ever happened again, we would have to give the cat away to keep him safe.

There is already a similar-sounding question that was answered here, but there are several reasons I think that the top voted and accepted answer does not apply to my case:

It quotes Child Bereavement UK, saying children 2 to 5:

Often struggle with abstract concepts like ‘forever’ and find it difficult to grasp that death is permanent. Their limited understanding may lead to an apparent lack of reaction when told about a death.

This is not at all plausible, given that my son's little brother passed away shortly before his due date because of medical complications. He only got to see his little brother once at the hospital. He still remembers this event and talks about it occasionally. He completely understands that his brother's death is permanent, and does not expect him to come back.

Secondly, in the past year, both my grandmother and uncle have passed away. It is the same with both of them. He understands perfectly well what death means in these cases, so why wouldn't he understand death in the case of an animal?

Thirdly, his mental development is extremely advanced for his age. His vocabulary, understanding of the internals of mechanical objects, and even of social norms is far beyond his age. We receive comments from other parents about this routinely.

For these reasons, I reject the idea that he doesn't know what he's doing. He said that he did it because he was mad, but according to my wife, he didn't seem mad about anything leading up to the incident, or even afterward. EDIT: Either I misunderstood the first time, or my wife changed her story, but he may have been angry before the incident due to my wife yelling at him to stop chasing the cat around the house.

I wouldn't be anywhere near as upset as I am without this additional piece of context: after this incident with our son yesterday, my wife admitted that she herself killed a cat previously (while we were already married) and lied about it, telling me that it had fallen asleep in the open washing machine, and that she turned it on not knowing it was inside. In reality, she choked it to death with her foot against the floor, and covered it up before I got home.

She claims that she doesn't know why she did it, but that she had an irrational hatred for the cat at that moment, and has felt extreme guilt about what happened. This occurred 6 years ago (2 years before either of our sons were born). My wife has no criminal record, nor have I ever experienced her being violent towards people or animals, so this is a complete shock to me.

Her admission only came about because she fears our son has somehow inherited something from her that has caused this terrible behavior.

My own marriage problems (which I didn't think I had only a day ago) are obviously outside the scope of this question, but what should I do in the near term about my son?

  • You wife may be saying that to create a cover for your kid, however. This type of sudden "hatred against kittens" doesn't seem to be any type of trait that could be passed on. It's extremely specific.
    – T. Sar
    Aug 23, 2017 at 18:04
  • @T.Sar: I can't rule out that possibility, but think its unlikely, since she has just completed an extremely difficult health regimen in preparation for us trying to have another child safely, among various other very long term plans we have together. She had to have known revealing this would put all of those in jeopardy and that we may even get divorced. Also, the original timeline regarding what happened to our previous kitten (it drowning, her trying CPR, and taking it to an emergency clinic), doesn't fit the records. I didn't verify things at the time, because I didn't suspect anything. Aug 23, 2017 at 18:54
  • 2
    Stating the obvious and not an answer to your question, but: Please think about finding another home for your cat and refrain from getting another pet until you have sorted your current issues out.
    – Stephie
    Aug 23, 2017 at 22:48
  • @Stephie Yes, I am in the process of looking for a new home for the kitten. I'll take it to the Humane Society in a few days if I don't find one. I'm distraught enough though that even "obvious" answers shouldn't be withheld. Thanks. Aug 23, 2017 at 22:53
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    I'm closing this question pending discussion with the other moderators. You are asking for answers only a psychiatrist or psychologist - preferably specializing in children - can give you. Also, taking your child to such a therapist seems like the only answer here. Aug 24, 2017 at 2:18

1 Answer 1


I'm not a doctor of any kind.

even "obvious" answers shouldn't be withheld.

Torturing animals is often a sign of serious psychopathic personality disorders. This point is made clear in every serial-killer documentary on YouTube, and validated by this article I just found, which states just that, almost verbatim.

there are many types of IATC (Intentional Animal Torture and Cruelty), including individuals who do it... because they have psychological disorders (such as antisocial/psychopathic personality disorders and engage in deliberate acts of zoosadism), and/or (iv) because they have sexually paraphilic disorders (such as crush fetishism in which small animals are crushed for sexual pleasure). Additionally, there is some research showing that in some circumstances, IATC is sometimes used to coerce, control and intimidate women and/or children to be silent about domestic abuse within the home. Although any animal torture is shocking, arguably the most disturbing type of IATC is that which occurs amongst those with antisocial personality disorders.

Not all psychopaths are murderers, or even bad people though. The fact that your wife owned up to it and that she is concerned about your son leads me to believe she is not a bad person. She is probably dealing with the loss of your other son in a less than healthy way, but the obvious answer is that she needs professional help.

New research on the origins of antisocial behaviour, published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, suggests that early-onset antisocial behaviour in children with psychopathic tendencies is largely inherited.

The above linked article does give a little bit of advice, but keep in mind, this website and the internet in general are no substitute for real professional help.

There is no easy solution to childhood IATC. Given that most children learn antisocial behaviour from those around them, the best way to prevent it is teaching by example. Here, parents are the key. Prosocial behaviour by parents and other role models towards animals (such as rescuing spiders in the bath, feeding birds, treating pets as a member of the family) has the potential to make a positive lasting impression on children.

You may also find this article interesting: We think of psychopaths as killers, alien, outside society. But, says the scientist who has spent his life studying them, you could have one for a colleague, a friend – or a spouse.

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    Aug 24, 2017 at 6:23

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