The purpose of this study was to examine the mechanism(s) and differential cell-killing effects of Anvirzel, an extract of oleander (Nerium oleander; family-Apocynaceae), and its derivative compound Oleandrin on human, canine and murine tumor cells. Cells received different concentrations of Anvirzel (1.0 ng/ml to 500 microg/ml) or Oleandrin (0.01 ng/ml to 50 microg/ml) in both continuously treated and pulse-treated/recovery cultures. The cytotoxicity of these compounds was then determined. Both Anvirzel and Oleandrin were able to induce cell killing in human cancer cells, but not in murine cancer cells; the cell-killing potency of Oleandrin was greater than that of Anvirzel. Canine oral cancer cells treated with Anvirzel showed intermediate levels of response, with some abnormal metaphases and cell death resulting from the treatment. From these results we conclude that Anvirzel and Oleandrin act in a species-specific manner, and while testing the effectiveness of a new compound for cancer treatment, one must use not only murine but a variety of cancer cells, including those of human origin.