Cats and dogs absolutely can suffer from sunburn.
Short haired or hairless pets, such as Sphynx cats, Dalmatians and Greyhounds can burn on their backs if they spend time in the sun. Since most pets have sparse coats on their bellies, any pet that likes to lie on its back in the sun may suffer from a sunburned abdomen. As well, all pets are at risk of sunburn on their ears and noses.
Exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet rays can lead to problems other than sunburn. In dogs, the sun can stimulate the immune system to cause hair loss, color changes, and scabbing on the top of the nose. In cats with white hair, the sun often contributes to the development of a type of skin cancer called squamous cell carcinoma.
Skin damage due to solar radiation is most common during the summer. Pets who live in or visit high altitude or tropical areas are at highest risk.
The simplest way to avoid sunburn and other sun-related problems is to keep pets indoors or in the shade during peak sun hours (from 9:00 am until 3:00 pm). If that is not possible, you can apply non-toxic, water resistant human sunscreen to the areas that are most likely to burn. Try to keep your pet from licking it off. As well, dogs with thin haircoats can wear a T-shirt to protect their backs from the sun during hikes.
Regardless of where you live, it is important to remember that the sun can injure your pet, just like it can injure you.