The effects of cyclic local buckling on the behavior of concrete-filled steel tubular (CFST) slender beam-columns under cyclic loading were approximately considered in existing analytical methods by modifying the stress–strain curve for the steel tube in compression. These methods, however, cannot simulate the progressive cyclic local buckling of the steel tubes. This paper presents a new efficient numerical model for predicting the cyclic performance of high strength rectangular CFST slender beam-columns accounting for the effects of progressive cyclic local buckling of steel tube walls under stress gradients. Uniaxial cyclic constitutive laws for the concrete core and steel tubes are incorporated in the fiber element formulation. The effects of initial geometric imperfections, high strength materials and second order are also included in the nonlinear analysis of CFST slender beam-columns under constant axial load and cyclically varying lateral loading. The Müller's method is adopted to solve nonlinear equilibrium equations. The accuracy of the numerical model is examined by comparisons of computer solutions with experimental results available in the published literature. A parametric study is conducted to investigate the effects of cyclic local buckling, column slenderness ratio, depth-to-thickness ratio, concrete compressive strength and steel yield strength on the cyclic responses of CFST slender beam-columns. It is shown that the numerical model developed predicts well the experimentally observed cyclic lateral load–deflection characteristics of CFST slender beam-columns. The numerical results presented reflect the cyclic local and global buckling behavior of thin-walled high strength rectangular CFST slender beam-columns, which have not been reported in the literature.