It would be nice if they did - but they don't. Someone is sure to give an example of a cat who recognized her baby years later but, after even a short separation, mothers only "see" another cat when they are reintroduced to their adult offspring.
Very true....someone will come up with a story about a long lost mother and kitten, but I agree that animals do not recognize family members after years of separation. I once rescued a young male cat and about a month and a half later rescued his sister. They absolutely remembered each other. However, I also had the grandmother of the two (coworker had taken the mother). Grandmother had been around the grandkids in the colony but there was a gap of about a year and there was absolutely no recognition or bond from either cat.
I question whether a mama cat remembers that her children are her children even if they aren’t separated. We have a mama cat and her two 9 month old kittens and as far as I can tell, at this point it appears they are all just friends, with no idea of familial ties. She was an excellent mother when they were little, but she’s not very motherly anymore.
I know my girls Eden and Willow (mother and daughter) were separated for a few weeks when we adopted them (Eden ran away and hid outside whereas Willow, the kitten, came inside) and when they were reunited, they weren’t entirely pleased to see each other.
Some mother cats will acknowledge their kittens after being separated for a long time. Little Rosie gets beside herself when she sees her six-year-old "baby." She calls him in a headlock and proceeded to wash him from one end to the other. He allows her to "mom handle" him. Their grown-up babies are just treated like acquaintances or friends to other cats. It seems that when the mothers wean the kittens from nursing, they more or less put them out on their own. I have had a couple of daddy cats that took up time with their offspring. There doesn't seem to be a hard and fast rule that says no, they don't, or yes, they do.
I really don't think so, their memories are not wired the same as ours. I have had mamas separated for only 6 months from their offspring and had to go through introductions. They are usually not around them long enough to develop long term memories. Most kittens leave at 12 weeks or younger. they develop different scents when they mature too. They miss their babies for at least two weeks after they are gone, however, and most likely longer, but they stop meowing and looking (which is heartbreaking) for about two weeks.