Animal Planet's fantastically popular Puppy Bowl is getting ready for its ninth showdown of cuteness — and like other years, the network has some new additions to up the serotonin levels.

Started in 2005, the Puppy Bowl features several hours of shelter pups playing with various football-related items while gerbils film from blimps, chickens and roosters cheer from the sidelines, and kittens put on a wild halftime show. The big event has proven extremely popular — with past ratings just under 10 million viewers. Last year's Puppy Bowl VIII also ranked #2 overall for social television behind the Super Bowl — with more than 200,000 Puppy Bowl-related tweets on game day and a record-breaking 5.5 million page views and 1.4 million videos streamed on

Fans this year can expect 63 furry pups from shelters around the United States to compete for the coveted award of MVP (Most Valuable Puppy). For the first time ever, adorable hedgehog cheerleaders will cheer for the sidelines, while advancements like new "in-your-face" Puppy Cam technology and puppy hot tubs (with underwater cameras) will put you in the middle of the action.

"The puppy players viewed me more as fresh meat than a ref last year," said returning ref Dan Schachner. "It took a few hard-hitting plays for them to realize their overwhelming cuteness and basset hound eyes wouldn't affect my judgment to fairly officiate this game."

As in past years, viewers will have the opportunity to adopt any of the animals featured by visiting Last year, the website received over 5.4 million pageviews during the Puppy Bowl — up 24 percent over the previous year.

Puppy Bowl IX will air on Animal Planet starting at 3 p.m. EST on Feb. 3. Look for breaking news on the full starting lineup shortly.

Related post on MNN: 8 of the happiest dogs on YouTube

Michael d'Estries ( @michaeldestries ) covers science, technology, art, and the beautiful, unusual corners of our incredible world.

Hedgehog cheerleaders added to Puppy Bowl IX
Last year's 12-hour marathon brought in more than 8.7 million unique total viewers.