My cat had some kittens a while ago, one of which I have given to a friend.

It has been about a year since then, and I was wondering: If my cat (the mother) were to come in contact with her offspring after not seeing it for a while, will the mother still know the other cat is its offspring?

Cats usually sniff each other's behinds to catch their scent, which in the animal world, is basically their handshake (for certain categories of animals, such as dogs. Please correct me if I'm wrong). Even after a long period of separation, will the scent of the offspring set off a motherly instinct, or any kind of trigger, that'll allow the mother to know if the cat she's interacting with is in fact her offspring?

If they can or can't recognize them by scent, is there another way she would be able to recognize them? (E.g. if the father spent time with the offspring and also with the mother cat at different times, and the mother and offspring haven't seen each other since birth. When they first meet, will the mother know it's her offspring?)

  • Are you only interested in "recognition" or also how they will interact? If also how they might interact, the gender and spay/neuter status may impact the interaction, and should be included in your question. Aug 26, 2014 at 17:09
  • @JamesJenkins I'm only interested in recognition: will the mother see her offspring as a stranger cat, or is there some kind of scent or instinct that allows the mother to recognize the other after so long. Should I remove the behavior tag?
    – Dioxin
    Aug 26, 2014 at 17:16
  • 7
    She might recognize them and still not want them in her space.
    – Oldcat
    Aug 26, 2014 at 17:36

3 Answers 3


@Oldcat is correct. In the wild, wild cats like the leopard take care and teach their cubs to hunt; once the cubs reach a certain age, the mother will force the cubs to leave. When the mother is pregnant again with a second batch of cubs, she will attack her offspring (any of her cubs from her previous litters) and treat them as a threat.

Unlike humans, where we recognize all from our families, cats do not, and it is their natural instinct to protect only their current litter, as the cub/kitten has the smell of their mother. Kittens/cubs who have left their mother for a period of time and return will not have the scent that their mother would recognize and thus will not be accepted.

  • On the other hand, feral cat colonies are a thing that exist, and they're often inhabited by dozens of adult cats that are close relatives.
    – nick012000
    May 12, 2021 at 1:46

My cat had 6 kittens, and then after a 6 week period together we reached the end of the school year and I went home to see family for a month. During this time friends watched one of the kittens that I planned on keeping for me.

When I came back after being gone for a month, with mama cat and baby being separated for a month, at first she was a little awkward around her baby, but within 4 hours she was cleaning him and playing with him and teaching him how to play and eat and hunt, etc. So I would say if the baby is still a kitten, the mother would be able to recognize them, but after a year, most likely not, as the other person said.


I think we do not know. I do believe dogs and cats can remember humans for a long time so they could remember other cats also for a long time. They may or may not understand that they are the mother of an adult cat; but just as some humans do not care for their own children, cats, lacking any cultural reason to prefer their own adult offspring, may not treat them any differently.

On the other hand, lions I think base their "society" on mother/daughter relationships and adult male lions seem to have deep friendships with brothers upon whom they depend to survive -- so lions maybe do understand about family relations.

Orca and elephants seem to have very long-term family bonds as do crows. Bottom line, I suspect cats have the brains to understand family and perhaps if living in a subsistence situation, like a feral colony, fam

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