A Diabetic Alert Ferret

A rescued ferret reveals an important skill to her new owners.

Erika Schallmo poses with her ferret Itty Bitty
When Erika Schallmo and her boyfriend rescued two ferrets this summer, they didn’t realize one ferret had a very special skill.

This is a rescue story, but it’s unlike any rescue story you have ever heard before. It involves beautiful, young Erika Schallmo and her boyfriend, Sean Memering, who live with a business of 10 ferrets in Indiana. Both ferret lovers are members of the Greater Chicago Ferret Association (GCFA) and most of their ferrets are adopted or fosters. They have selflessly welcomed rescues into their home for many years. And as you shall see … the favor has been returned.

Schallmo has long suffered with type 1 diabetes, which has caused her to be in and out of hospitals for more than half her life. The extreme swings in a diabetic’s blood glucose levels can lead to passing out, seizures, brain damage, coma and even death. One can only imagine the level of incapacitation, anxiety and fear that someone with this type of diabetes must live with. In most cases, lifelong aggressive treatment enables people to live life as normally and safely as possible. But for many this is not the case due to the severity of the disease, secondary illnesses or lack of finances. This is the case for Schallmo, and so she struggles.

The unique rescue story began when Schallmo and Memering rescued two ferrets from the back of a pickup truck one scorching hot summer day. The adorable, creamy champagne male, whom she named Igor, had a large growth on his head between his eyes, but was otherwise well. And next to him, fighting the 90-plus degree heat and dehydration, was a spunky little girl whom she later named Itty Bitty Bouncy Pants. Frightened and desperate, the two little ferrets clung to their new parents all the way home.

The ferrets settled into their new home and began to recuperate from their ordeal. Tummies were filled, soft blankets were fluffed, toys were introduced, and clean cool water was sucked down. Plenty of “logs” were sawed through that first night, and all seemed to be going swimmingly well.

Igor the ferret looks at the camera
Igor is “brother” to Itty Bitty, and he was suffering from a growth between his eyes when first rescued.

Schallmo started tossing and turning during the early morning hours. Itty Bitty also grew restless in her cage. Because this was the ferret’s first night in the new home and new cage, Schallmo ignored her when she heard her. But she couldn’t ignore her for long.

“She began to shake the bars of her cage wildly making a grunting and squeaking noise,” Schallmo said. “I groggily got up, opened her cage, took her out and placed her in bed with me. Upon standing I realized my BGL [blood glucose level] was not right. So I tested it. She sat on the bed in front me and began bouncing around once I pulled out my meter to test. I assumed she was just excited. I tested it, and it was in the mid 40s — a very dangerous low. Normal BGL should be around 100. I placed her on my shoulder, walked upstairs to the kitchen, corrected it with some sugar, juice and then went back to bed as this was around 5 or 6 a.m.”

The scenario repeated itself the next morning. At 3 a.m., Itty Bitty Bouncy Pants violently shook her cage bars and squealed while her cagemate, Igor, looked up lazily after yet again being woken from his sleep. The sleepy, 26-year-old Schallmo finally got up and took the little one out of her cage. She tried to snuggle down into bed and go back to sleep with her new furry baby, but the tiny ferret had different ideas.

“She kept bouncing around ‘dooking.’ She was anxiously licking my face and hands. I kept pushing her away but she was relentless,” Schallmo said. “I was exhausted and put her on the floor not wanting to play. She actually climbed some boxes and the blanket and scurried over to my face. She was licking my face and hands again and again. I pushed her under the blankets willing her to go back to sleep. This time she came back up to my face and bit my hand hard, not in play. I sat up, jolted out of my daze. She sat there grunting at me then started to bounce around again.”

This time Schallmo listened and took heed. She got up to test her BGL while Itty Bitty calmly sat next to the meter on the bed. The results were even lower than the night before.

Now it was hard to ignore what was happening. Incredibly, Itty Bitty was sensing abnormal blood levels in her owner and alerting her. So unbelievable was this, that Schallmo put it to the test.

portrait of the ferret Itty Bitty
Itty Bitty Bouncy Pants now stays with Schallmo as much as possible, and their bond has grown.

In order to make sure that these episodes weren’t coincidental and weren’t caused by being in a strange cage, she left the ferrets free roam all day so that if the tiny ferret once again reacted in such an intense and bizarre way, she would know it wasn’t due to wanting out of a new cage.

Because Schallmo had been woken up so very early, she decided to lie down and take a nap later that afternoon. She got her answer right away.

“Once again I was awakened by little nervous kisses on my face and hands,” Schallmo said. “I pushed her away, but again she persisted. I took a hint and grabbed my meter. She was again correct. This time, however, my BGL was too high — in the upper 200s low 300s.” She said that Itty Bitty just bounced back and forth on the bed once Schallmo tested.

There was no denying the fact that the ferret was now alerting Schallmo to extremely dangerous swings in her sugar levels. And because of those strong warnings from a tenacious little ferret, Schallmo was more than likely saved from yet more ER and hospital visits — or worse.

The rescued ferret had turned into the rescuer. The beloved ferret’s warnings have been consistent ever since, even after a major move to a new house later on.

Today, Schallmo keeps her little Itty Bitty Bouncy Pants with her as much as she is able, and their bond has grown even stronger. The comfort, relief and confidence this tiny ferret offers, let alone the vital medical alerts, is no “itty bitty” thing.

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Critters · Ferrets